Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Story of My Life

By Clarence Darrow

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

We don’t hear or read all that much about Clarence Darrow these days. He was clearly what is termed a “liberal”. Actually the American derisive version of the term “liberal” may have been coined in his honor.
Clarence once gave a speech at a prison where he lectured on his theory of the nature and origin of crime and its treatment and cure. When he was done a reporter interviewed some of the prisoners who were in attendance. They all thought that Clarence was a very kind and understanding man but even they, as criminals, couldn’t bring themselves to be quite so understanding about their own criminal natures as Mr. Darrow was.
Though he was an agnostic or even possibly an atheist, he believed in destiny or fate when it came to the determination of an individual’s life. He felt that a man or human being was no more capable of deterring his destiny than a planet hurdling through space could alter its direction or change its course.
If there is a God and consequently a devil, I have no doubt that at the Final Judgment, Clarence Darrow will be on hand to bring before the Almighty the case for the Devil and his right to be evil. I can hear him now: “Didn’t you know, my God Almighty, when you created the devil that he would be evil and do evil things? And since you must have known the devil would be evil when you created him can you truly consider Yourself to be “All Just” in condemning him now? What kind of an omniscient, infinitely loving God are you? What kind of infinite justice are you pretending to practice here anyway?”
Clarence Darrow only defended people. He was called “The Attorney for the Damned”. He never prosecuted. And there is no doubt, if you were in need of defense, Clarence was one man that you wanted on your side.
Clarence was seventy-five when he sat down to write this book and his thoughts and ideas are as clear and cogent as ever. Clarence was certainly the kind of grandfather any child would love to have. There would never be any question of his support and love for you ... ever. Not that he would agree with what you did or why you may have done it - but there is no doubt in my mind that he would be there “in your defense”.
So Clarence believed that everything had a plan, was determined and that we were all subject to our own personal destiny. But he did not believe that there was a “planner”. Nor did he believe that the plan was fair, honest or decent. There was a plan and it was determined but it had no direction; it occurred spontaneously, moment by moment; and it was without moral integrity. It was unjust and arbitrary. It was a plan as devised by an unthinking “mother nature” whose guiding force was science, evolution and chance. That you would end up where you would end up was assured. But your position was not designed by a responsible, thoughtful Nature; nor was it governed by fair play or moral rectitude. It would be the way that it would be and it would be that way whether you liked it or not and regardless of right or wrong.
I guess one would say that Clarence was a fatalist.
I have been reading about the exploits and adventures of Clarence Darrow for a long, long time but always from the viewpoint of another observer. This is the first time that I have read and learned about Clarence Darrow from Clarence Darrow. It was different. As someone once said, an autobiography is never objective and this autobiography supports that allegation. But it was certainly one of the more enjoyable self-defenses or personal evaluations that I have ever read. But I have always enjoyed listening to philosophers expound and generalize on themselves, and their situations.
Make no mistake, Clarence is a philosopher. He is a man of very strong and definite opinions. He doesn’t mince any words in defending what he believes or thinks.
He has a very good way with words. There is kindness, understanding and even poetry in his style.
In this book he goes over many of the important legal cases for which he is famous. I had previously read about all of them; I have read many of his actual defenses but I have never heard about these stories right from the horse’s mouth. This man is so simple in his speech, so logical and so reassuring in the correctness of his stance that it is easy to see how he was so often victorious.
He lost the Scopes case (Monkey Trial) against William Jennings Bryan. Many people even today think that he actually won that case.
He defended union agitators and even the radical IWW and Big Bill Haywood but he supported World War I despite the union and labor movement’s strong opposition.
This book is a descriptive lesson in the art of growing old. It is melancholy; it is thoughtful but sad. It is an old, lovable man saying good-bye to life. The very last chapter is a poem in prose.
I have always been attracted to and admiring of Clarence Darrow. I feel much closer to the man now that I have read the story of his life, narrated in his own words. He was a sentimental, tough, well spoken, simple, logical, compassionate and ardent supporter of the things that he believed and the people whom he loved and befriended during his life. I feel that this man could have been a good friend. Though he has never met me, I feel that I am one of his friends. Like him, I may not agree exactly with everything that he believed but that small distinction does not deter in any way our one-sided friendship.
I like his style. I hope that a bit of him has rubbed off on me.